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Slow day in Boracay

DOT chief says gradual reopening of Aklan resort island a ‘crucial first step’ toward domestic tourism recovery

Boracay on Thursday welcomed tourists outside of Western Visayas, but only a few came amid stringent health protocols and requirements set by the government for the resort island in Malay, Aklan, to open its doors to more visitors.

“It was like any other day. There are more reporters, including those from Manila, but the number of tourists are about the same,” a resident told the Inquirer in a telephone interview.

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Data from the municipal tourism office of Malay showed that 19 tourists, including seven from Metro Manila, arrived on the island as of 3 p.m. Thursday. Five are from Aklan.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat said the reopening of Boracay, the Philippines’ top beach destination, to an expanded market signaled the safe and gradual revival of the country’s tourism industry amid the pandemic.

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TOURISM MODEL Resorts, hotels and restaurants on Boracay Island have set up health and safety guidelines as they prepare to welcome more visitors to jump-start the local economy. Boracay’s gradual reopening is seen as a model in the recovery of the tourism sector that was badly hit by the pandemic. —JACK JARILLA

Glimmer of hope

Speaking at a press conference via Zoom, Puyat described the island’s reopening as “a crucial first step” to domestic tourism recovery, providing the momentum for domestic tourism all over the country.

This gives the country’s tourism industry a glimmer of hope, especially for those counting on tourism to survive, she added.

“What could be a better way to herald the revival of Philippine tourism than the reopening of the world-renowned Boracay Island?” she said.

Puyat noted that there were no reported COVID-19 cases in Boracay but promised government support in ensuring that health and safety protocols were in place. The safety and well-being of tourists and residents remain the top priority of the Department of Tourism (DOT), she said.

A tourist from Iloilo province, who arrived on the island days before Thursday, said many tourists from Western Visayas had canceled their bookings due to the requirement of a negative real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test result released within three days before their scheduled arrival in Boracay.

Testing

A resident and business operator said RT-PCR tests were difficult to get in Western Visayas and the release of results usually took three days to a week.

RT-PCR tests in Iloilo cost between P3,000 and P4,500, and in Metro Manila, from P4,000 to P12,000.

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“[The number of] tourists from Western Visayas was already increasing before the RT-PCR test requirement was imposed,” said the resident, who asked not to be named to avoid antagonizing government officials.

The Boracay Inter-Agency Task Force (BIATF) required tourists to have a negative RT-PCR test result not earlier than 48 hours before they travel. The requirement, however, excludes Aklan residents.

The island started accepting tourists from Western Visayas on June 16 after more than three months of lockdown. Tourists were only required to fill up health declarations and should have no symptoms of COVID-19.

Tourism Secretary Bernadette Romulo-Puyat

Health protocols in place

The BIATF and the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases, which approved the request of business operators and local governments of Malay and Aklan, imposed the RT-PCR test requirement for all tourists, including those coming from Western Visayas provinces, starting Oct. 1.

Records showed that 3,780 tourists, most of them from Iloilo, visited Boracay from June 16 to Sept. 20. The figure was less than the 4,000 to 5,000 daily arrivals before the pandemic.

Puyat said that while health and safety protocols had been put in place, the success of Boracay’s reopening would largely depend on the compliance and cooperation of guests.

“We urge our visitors to be responsible tourists. Follow the guidelines, respect the rules. We can never be too complacent, even on vacation, we must adhere to the minimum health protocols. Let’s wear our mask when possible,” she said.

Malay Councilor Maylynn Aguirre-Graf said the local government was still monitoring the impact of the health and safety protocols on tourist arrival.

Graf said hotel room rates had been slashed by as much as 75 percent, with midrange hotels and some high-end establishments offering their rooms for P2,500 a night, inclusive of breakfast for two guests.

Not cheap

“Business operators want to offset the expenses of tourists in getting RT-PCR tests by offering these rates,” said Graf, chair of the committees on tourism and on environment of the Malay town council.

A short Boracay holiday during the pandemic is not cheap for many.

A family of five coming from Metro Manila would spend from P48,435.60 to P60,890 for a stay of three days and two nights in Boracay based on current rates.

These include return airline tickets (P2,852.12 to P5,343 per person), hotel accommodation (P2,500 per night per room for two persons), RT-PCR tests (P4,500 per person), boat fare (P60 per person), Boracay and Caticlan terminal fees (P200 per person) and environmental fee (P75 per person).

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For more information on COVID-19, call the DOH Hotline: (02) 86517800 local 1149/1150.

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